In 1999 the US Department of Agriculture and about 20,000 black farmers arrived at a financial settlement in a discrimination lawsuit. Black farmers in the suit claimed that the USDA had discriminated against them when processing applications for farm programs and loans in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The farmers stated that this treatment had helped reduce the number of independent black farmers and had also reduced the number of acreage under control of black farmers.
In 1960 there were some 100,000 black-owned farms, with total land holdings of 8 million acres. Today there are fewer than 20,000 black-owned farms, and these landholders have only 2.3 million acres under their control. When a lack of economic opportunity threatens the survival of farms, what can farmers do to protect their operations? They can come together and form financial and business cooperatives, as demonstrated by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF).
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund has been “fighting to save black-owned land since 1967.” FSC/LAF has three main goals: to promote economic development through the creation of cooperatives and credit unions; to save, protect, and expand the landholdings of black farmers in the South; and to develop and fight for public policies that benefit family farmers and low-income rural communities.
Why does FSC/LAF support the creation of cooperatives and credit unions? Because these organizations are member controlled and build wealth through local participation. FSC/LAF’s member farmers work through 35 agricultural cooperatives to purchase supplies, provide technical assistance, and market their crops. FSC/LAF has also helped its members start up credit unions. In total some 10,000 savers have organized themselves into 19 community development credit unions, which have accumulated over $5 million in savings and made some $52 million in loans.
How does FSC/LAF help protect and expand the landholdings of black farmers in the South? Through its lawyer referral program (where eligible farmers can receive the name of a lawyer in their area), through direct legal representation (available to Georgia residents and non-resident land holders), and through workshops and seminars on landowner rights and responsibilities, estate planning, and land retention strategies.
How does FSC/LAF work to promote public policies that benefit family farmers? Through initiatives like its 1992 “Caravan to Washington”, which included demonstrations at the US Capitol and the US Department of Agriculture, through participation in lawsuits on discrimination issues, and by organizing communities at the local level as a base for change.
Today the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund’s membership includes some 12,000 black farmers who collectively control over half a million acres.
Contact Group: Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
Address: 2769 Church Street
East Point, GA 30344
Web site: http://www.federationsoutherncoop.com